But first, a reading from the Book of Ricky.
Agnostic Compliments: Ricky Rubio is one of the most talked-about prospects in the known universe. And yes, an awful lot of that talk consists of being told that we can't talk about Ricky Rubio.
So let's not talk about what Rubio did (or didn't) do in Spain's loss to Serbia on Wednesday. It took a last-second three to send the defending FIBA champs home. Unrelatedly, Ricky Rubio played 26 minutes, going 1 for 4 from the floor. That lone make was one of his two 3-point attempts. He also chipped in three boards, three assists and two steals, while turning the ball over twice.
All of Spain's other starters have proven themselves at the NBA level; they put up perfectly respectable numbers in defeat. Too bad that detail can't help us understand Ricky any better.
Usually, the debate surrounding an NBA-bound teen focuses on chances for success at the next level. We mull over the strengths and weaknesses of their game, look for player comparisons that might offer clues as to their futures, and if they're really special, spend some quality time with whatever highlights have piled up on YouTube. Sometimes, we might have a soft spot for a particular player, maybe because we saw him play back before the rest of the world took notice.
With Rubio, there is no debate. Well, some folks might try to have one. But they're promptly informed, with all due respect, that now is not the time. They will allow for some basic facts, such as Rubio's name, date, age, current employer and participation on the Spanish national team. We can recount his most recent performances, maybe even watch a highlight or two -- Ricky sure can, on occasion, throw a pretty pass. As for his actual play, both in FIBA and in Spain last season, well, that's a non-starter.
We're told that he's still young and maturing. That the international game will always confuse us Americans to no end, to such a degree that even when Rubio is playing well, we wouldn't understand. His poor shooting isn't what it seems to be, and his stats, well, those mean practically nothing in this exotic context. Ricky Rubio is at best inscrutable, and at worst, one big fat incomplete for the semester.
What's so amazing about all this is how patient we're expected to be with Rubio revealing himself. "Patient" is hardly the best word to describe the culture of the NBA, especially when it comes to player development. Things have calmed since the days of drafting unknown Euros on the strength of VHS footage, or a particularly strong Hoop Summit. But scouts, fans, and writers generally like to have opinions. That's why you'll find plenty of assessment of other players Rubio's age -- obviously Americans in college, but even international guys with some real promise to them.
It also couldn't be further from the way things used to be with Ricky. He was the next Pistol Pete Maravich, even though all they had in common was the floppy hair and no-look dishes; Maravich was a scoring machine, even something of a gunner, while Rubio makes Rajon Rondo look like Mark Price. Then he was Steve Nash, redux. Oh, and then he was on Gillette commercial during the draft, even as he fell to the Timberwolves, putting his NBA career on ice and in some way, contributing to the way he's discussed.
Or maybe this is just the latest fantastic way for Rubio's fans (yes, the people not wanting to talk him about are his biggest fans) to describe their hero. Forget Maravich or Nash -- he's basketball's answer to Peter Pan. (BS)
Coach K Knows Best: Earlier this week, FanHouse's Chris Tomasson, live from Istanbul, brought us word that David Blatt, an American-born coach who has led the Russian basketball team for six years, no longer believes the good ol' USA was robbed of the gold medals in Munich 1972, despite having cried as a 13-year-old Bay Stater when it all went down. Blatt has coached in Europe since 1993, and at some point changed his mind about that controversial finish in which the U.S.S.R. received three attempts at a game-winning lay-up.
According to Tomasson, Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski responded to the news by dismissing Blatt as someone who is now Russian, and who only says the American were not robbed because he works for the Russian national basketball program. The quote is more derisive than a paraphrasal sounds; from Tomasson's USA-Russia preview:
"He's Russian. He coaches the Russian team. So he probably has that viewpoint. His eyes are clearer now because there are no tears in them. It's great. Whatever he thinks, he thinks. It really has absolutely no bearing on what we're trying to do (Thursday). Absolutely none."Blatt is, of course, decidedly not Russian. Enter: drama. Yahoo!'s Adrian Wojnarowski talked to Blatt in Istanbul Wednesday, and got this fiery response from the
"I think Mike's overlooked the fact that I'm every bit as much of an American as him. In America, we're taught that freedom of speech and freedom of thought allow us to try and view things objectively, form our own opinions and express them. The ability to do that without risking it being called an act of unpatriotism may be lost upon him."By the way, the teams meet in a quarterfinal match in Istanbul Thursday, on the 38th anniversary of that '72 gold-medal game. I can think of more exciting tension than that spurred from a coach's duel about patriotism and a 38-year-old basketball game, but this is what we have.
Is Coach K right? Is Blatt likely to have changed his mind because he works for Russian Basketball these day? Perhaps. No one would blame Blatt for gaining a new appreciation for the Russian point of view on '72 after having worked in Russian and European coaching circles for a number of decades. But to insinuate Blatt isn't possibly being reasonable or objective in his assessment of Munich '72 is absurd, and perfectly Coach K, if one could use "Coach K" as an adjective.
You want to know why so many basketball fans despise Coach K and, by association, Duke? Because of stuff like this. The holier-than-everyone, arch-conservative, know-it-all attitude, combined with that famous and permanent sneer. Before now, only Stephon Marbury had ever made it easy to root against a Team USA.
Coach K didn't play or coach in Munich '72, so he knows exactly as much as Blatt about the circumstances of the game. But Coach K felt the need to fire the first volley and question Blatt's ability to reason. It was a stupid move, and Blatt called him on it. It's about time someone did, here's to hoping Krzyzewski's standing as an authority figure on everything basketball continues to be challenged.
As for the actual core of the dispute, whether Munich '72 was stolen from the Americans? The finish of the game deserved its controversy, as it was highly irregular. But when you consider all the information, reasonable people can disagree on whether the Soviets ought to have won. It certainly isn't as clear-cut as either Blatt or Coach K make it out to be. (TZ)
Death to the Avocado: David Kahn, general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves, has been a punching bag around these parts for pretty obvious reasons: his team sucks, he makes kooky decisions and he's completely convinced he's a genius. Criticisms to date have focused on his insistence on stockpiling players at various positions of weakness to the point of oversaturation, his insistence on selling some of his best players at their lowest possible value and, well, the whole Rubio saga, which ties in with that whole positional oversaturation thing.
That said, the Wolves have amassed a bit of a talent base, which is all you can ask a rebuilding team for. Kevin Love, growing American legend and Minnesota's best player, was in tow before Kahn's hiring. But Kahn cleared Al Jefferson (previously Minnesota's best player) out, which removes the last excuse coach Kurt Rambis has for not playing Love 36 minutes a game.
Love could truly break out this season, maybe even win the rebounding title and an All-Star berth. And Kahn would deserve some credit for making a starting job with tons of minutes feasible, even though Rambis ought to have figured out a way to feature Love and Jefferson together over the course of 82 games.
Of course, then there's Michael Beasley, who one would hope plays with Love quite a bit this year, lest we end up with another power forward conundrum. The great thing about Kahn's acquisition of Beasley is that it is 100 percent gravy. Everyone talks about risk in acquiring so-called problems like Beasley. As in, if a guy has been in rehab, he is a danger to your neatly built fortress of basketball.
That's the beautiful thing about the Wolves trading for Beasley: there is no neatly built fortress of basketball to tear down. The worst Beasley could do, in terms of the outcome for the team, is to relapse and fall out of the league. That'd be incredibly sad for Beasley, and a bit unfortunate for the Wolves ... but given that Kahn effectively used zero assets in acquiring Beasley, his nose would remain clean. (This is what happens in a league ruled by Wyn Douglas' transaction flowcharts!)
But Rubio is also gravy -- not 100 percent gravy, but 75 percent or so. Kahn acquired the 2009 No. 5 pick for virtually nothing. Should Kahn have used either that No. 5 pick (spent on Rubio) or the team's own No. 6 pick (Jonny Flynn) differently? Of course. In the end, though, Kahn grabbed Rubio without giving up much in the way of assets.
As Ricky and the Spaniards learned Wednesday, the Wolves have one more promising prospect in the pipeline: Serbian forward Nemanja Bjelica. The 20-year-old, picked by Kahn in the 2010 second round, scored 14 points on 5-for-5 shooting against Spain in the FIBA World Championship quarterfinals Wednesday. He looks like a real player, and Minnesota has his rights.
He apparently wanted to come to the NBA for the 2010-11 season but the Wolves are oversaturated at his position (imagine that?), and so Nemanja and Kahn and we all shall wait, likely for two years. Regardless, the Wolves have him, and he adds to the talent base.
Can Kahn put it all together? Would you trust him to do so? I have my opinion, and you have yours, but only time will tell the tale. (TZ)
The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller). Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History will be available this October.